Sushi!

I started eating sushi somewhat regularly about five years ago. Golden China, a local Chinese buffet/hibachi restaurant, serves sushi alongside their other fare. I’d typically get a plate of veggies and chicken to be grilled and while that was cooking, I’d grab a sampling of the sushi. It was acceptable. Not that I’m any kind of expert where the prepping of raw fish is concerned, but A) the sushi never appeared dried out and B) I never felt ill afterward, so I guess it was prepared correctly. Of course, I made sure to get sushi right around noon, when it was first prepared.

Unfortunately, Golden China lost the use of their hibachi awhile back (and their buffet was never a high-point for me) so I haven’t returned in some time. However, I’d started looking for other places in the Moore area to satisfy my cravings for raw fish, and I ran across a couple of places: Sushi Hayashi at 104th and South Penn (in OKC) and Go-Go Sushi just north of South 19th Street (in Moore) on the I-35 Service Road. The former has been around for a few years and is worth visiting every once in awhile (the prices are rather steep). The food I’ve tried has been good and the place is a relaxing, usually quiet place to enjoy my meal.

The latter seems yearly to be awarded OKC Gazette’s Best in Asian Dining (or at least receives nominations every year) and while I find the prices more affordable—with the inclusion of a lunch-item-only bento box with your choice of a couple of different sushi rolls (from a very short list), house salad, miso soup, rice, and tempura vegetables (which I haven’t developed a taste for anywhere)—the atmosphere is more akin to McDonald’s, a noisy, chaotic, get-in-eat-your-food-and-then-get-out kind of experience. Go-Go Sushi does offer hibachi items as well, but I don’t recall if they are on the lunch menu.

Then about a year or so ago, Volcano Sushi opened. It, too, is located on the I-35 Service Road in Moore, just south of South 19th Street (about a mile or so south of Go-Go Sushi). It’s a small, quiet place. The menu is fairly dense and while the majority of items are of the sushi variety, it has hibachi items also, and I noticed some of those are included on the lunch menu.

I usually visit sushi restaurants alone. None of my friends like eating raw fish,1 and though my wife and son have at least broken down and tried sushi at least once, neither of them cared for the experience. I seem to recall both grabbing (and draining) glasses of Dr Pepper shortly thereafter. But back over the summer, I had a craving for sushi and, since the kids were with me, I had to figure out what to do for their lunch. I remembered the hibachi items on Volcano Sushi’s menu and suggested we go there. After a bit of grumbling from the kids, they agreed and, after ordering the hibachi chicken lunch special, my son decided the place was worth a second visit.

Alas, the second time around wasn’t a good experience for them: the chicken was overcooked and the lo mein was over-saturated with soy sauce. They haven’t asked for a repeat visit.

But last week my wife and I were trying to figure out where to eat lunch, and I had a craving for sushi. So, of course, I suggested Volcano Sushi and after she wrinkled her nose at the thought, relented. Naturally, she avoided the sushi but did order a bento chicken dish along with the shrimp tempura, which she enjoyed.

And today, when we went out for lunch, she was the one suggesting Volcano Sushi.

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1. Except you, Nathan, but you don’t live here, so in this case, you don’t count.

Writers Write, Right?

That being the case, then I have not been a writer these past couple of months.

The last time I posted, I was taking an online course to start and finish an RPG product in 30 days. Well, those thirty days came and went, and I failed to meet my goal. The product I had started on was to be a series of loosely connected encounters using the Honor + Intrigue system by Basic Action Games. What I had neglected to realize was I have never written adventures for someone else to run and what I came up with was, basically, garbage. I have run adventures for years and run several that my players talk about even today, but jotting notes for something I have in mind and trying to set things out for another person to run are two different skill sets.

The instructor looked over what I had written at that point (the middle of October and half way through the course) and suggested since I was attempting two hurdles at once—first-time adventure writing and the 30-day course—that I take a break from the class and bone up on my adventure writing skills then return when I felt ready. My slot would be still be open. I thanked him and spent the next two weeks scouring the house for “canned adventure” modules as well as picking up a few on clearance at my local game store.

I’ve read adventure modules before—I would never attempt something I had no knowledge of going into—and generally preferred coming up with my own material. Most adventures I’d read in the past have a linear, railroading, quality to them, and I wanted to avoid that in my own writing. Unfortunately, what I came up with for the RPG course was both railroading and written “fluff” first, descriptive but very limiting in what the Game Master could do. I spent a couple of weeks writing an adventure and hated the work, both the writing and the process.1

By the middle of November, I decided to take a break. I seldom do much writing during the holidays anyway and felt a need to clear my head. I helped the kids out with projects at school. We played video games. The kids decorated the house for Christmas. I avoided writing. And typically in the past whenever I stopped writing for more than a couple of weeks, my subconscious would nag me back to the keyboard or at least put pen to paper.

This time, nothing.

OK, I’ll admit that on December 31, 2013, I sat down at the keyboard and planned to write an end-of-year blog post but five words into it I thought, “Forget it,” and shut down the computer. Then, two nights ago, I woke up with that animal part of my back brain telling me to start writing again.

Now I just need to figure out what project to begin (again).

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1I’m unsure if the distaste came from the actual writing or my current role-play funk. One reason for jumping into the RPG course was to shake myself from that state of mind, but it persists.

Hey, You Got Your CCG in my RPG! (part 1)*

So let me see a show of hands. How many of you have decks of collectible card games (CCGs) lying about the house? Just one? Two or three? Half a dozen or more?

Off the top of my head I can think of 7th Sea, Sailor Moon, Dark Age, Doom Trooper, Card Captors, Legend of the Five Rings, Dark Eden, and Legend of the Burning Sands filling various sized boxes back in my game room (and I know I have at least half a dozen others). Some of those are only one or two decks while others are nearly complete collections . . . and they spend most of their time just taking up space.

Yeah, I know, I could just get rid of them, but A) they’re good games and B) I always find it difficult getting rid of something that can be used for something else or that I’d like to play again at some point down the road.

Thus bringing me to an idea I had awhile back using CCGs as a Drama Deck (or Plot Cards or Power -Ups or some other player and/or GM aid) for a roleplaying game. There are a few discussions banging around RPG.net and other forums about hybrids or systems designed with card decks involved. There are a few RPG-CCG hybrids that have surfaced over the years—Dragon Storm, SAGA Dragonlance and SAGA Marvel, Untold, and Dark Legacy—but I’m more interested in using all those card games gathering dust and somehow jiggering them into whatever RPG my group happens to be playing at the time.2

This all ties in with a project I’ve jumped into recently . . . Gamer Lifestyle Bootcamp, an online course designed to get the participants up-and-running with at least one published RPG product by the end of the month. While I know people who have, I’ve never jumped through the writer-publisher hoops myself. Any writing I’ve done has been turned over to someone else who did layout and so on. So I figured I’d bite a d20, cross my fingers, and take the plunge.

More on that and the inclusion of CCGs into RPGs next time.

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*Forgive any lack of coherence, I’m still recovering from the week away as a parent counselor for my son’s class at a YMCA camp. It was a fun but thoroughly exhausting week.

2OK, so I don’t have a regular group currently. Maybe I’ll need to go back to my old group, RPG books under one arm, beggar’s cup in one hand, wearing a sandwich board reading: Have Dice will Game. Now, that being said, Sundered Epoch does have a short article on using Magic the Gathering cards to build encounters in a fantasy campaign.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chasing Down Orcs in a Bugatti Veyron*

Not really, but the moment someone creates a game where I can do just that, I’ll buy it.

Around the occasional burst of writing and/or voice-over work lately,2 I’ve been playing Gran Turismo 5, which I picked up a couple months ago. I’d been playing Sid Meier’s Pirates on Xbox (which I still think is one of the best swashbuckling video games around) and happened to catch one of the Fast and Furious movies on TV one evening after shutting down the console. I soon felt a need for speed (but not that franchise—I don’t like having to dodge police cars while racing around town: they always catch me. And with Hot Pursuit, when I play the police, the bad guys are always getting away). So, having been a fan of the original, I broke down and picked up a copy of GT5.

I’ve been having fun with the game. True, I’m really bad at racing games and my style of video driving is to set traction as high as it will go and use whatever monster car I can get away with using for the race. Oh, and brakes? What are those? That car, the wall over there, the grass, all do wonders for slowing the car down as it takes corners. Of course, that means I wind up spending money to rebuild the vehicle, but at least with GT5 I can keep racing long after the car would realistically be headed for the scrap heap.3 Of course, after a session of ripping past other cars on the track, slamming head-first into the barrier on the London track (or any of half a dozen others with sharp turns), doing so repeatedly because I just don’t take the corners slow enough (but the monster car allowing me to pull first place anyway) when I go out to run a few errands, the kids often complain, “Dad, this is a van, not a race car!”

Insert evil cackle here.

One of the things I enjoy about GT5 is playing the game while I’m cooking dinner (or picking the kids up from school) since the game allows the player to race (A-Spec) or to run a set of drivers who race for you (B-Spec). It is particularly amusing since I picked up the Red Bull X2011 Prototype (the fastest, most agile, monster of a car in the game) and have had my lowest level drivers racing against opponents driving Honda Civics or maybe a Lotus Elise (or similar) and winning by several minutes. Yes, that goes against the grain of struggling for the win, achieving victory despite having the slowest car in the bunch, and so on, but when I want to play but have something else that I need to be doing at the same time, it helps to put the drivers in a car that allows them to win without any coaching.

The kids often watch while I play. My son has tried driving but dislikes the PS controller. My daughter just likes watching the cars go fast. But one thing I have noticed is they both tend to pay attention to cars on the road and during the first episode of the current season of Top Gear USA (which both my kids love) they saw the cars that Rutledge, Tanner, and Adam were driving and said, “Lamborghini, the really fast car that looks like a Lamborghini, and and the American snake car, whatever it’s called.”

Proud papa moment, and no, I’m not a car person in any way, shape, or form. I just like the video games.

At the same time I purchased GT5, I had also picked up Lord of the Rings: War in the North and, while I like the game, it doesn’t have the same pull for me that GT does. Now my son, on the other hand, loves War in the North because he likes the Middle Earth setting and it’s a two-player game, allowing him to play the game with me.4 I, of course, am running the dwarf while my son is running the ranger. We’ve had fun despite a glitch (or two) where the AI-run elf wizard hangs a couple of areas back and we realize she isn’t with us and have to backtrack, only to have her stay where she is while we press on and cross our fingers that she shows up at the portal for the next area.5 I’ve had a suspension of disbelief problem with the bomb goblins, whatever they’re called. I don’t recall reading anything about TNT-toting goblins in The Hobbit or Lord of the Rings, which seem more a Warhammer than a Tolkien motif.6

Anyway, we’re slowly pushing our way through the game while my daughter sits to the side pointing out things we’ve missed (tracks for the ranger to follow, weak areas in the rock for the dwarf to break through, that orc jumping from the behind the rock).7 She seldom wants to play video games (aside from a few on the Nintendo DS), but she is always our best lookout. Maybe we’ll finish it. Maybe not, but we’re having fun with both games.

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*OK, maybe in a long straight-away. Any turns in there and the orc would likely dodge the Bugatti, which steers like a “bucket of rocks” as I’ve seen posted on various GT5-related forums.

2Yeah, sure, around is a word, through is another, and even though instead of are two words, they more accurately describe my time spent in front of the console.

3There had been another racing game I’d tried a few years back (may have been the Need for Speed franchise) where, after every race, all the money I’d earned—and then some—was going toward rebuilding my car. Yeah, I know, learn to control the car better. But I drive sensibly in real life. I don’t want to be forced to do so in a video game. In a video game I just want to drive fast.

4I have the gratuitous violence turned off so no geysers of blood when orcs and goblins are cut down though some areas don’t even require the blood to be rather intense.

5So far we’ve been lucky and she has shown up by that time.

6But I could be mistaken since the lotr.wikia indicates there is mention of the goblins possessing dark technology and being fond of explosives in The Hobbit. I’d need to reread the book to verify this.

7When I had Warhammer 40K: Space Marine (which I never I finished), my daughter was the one who got me through most of the areas I completed because she spotted things long before I ever did. Good eyes and good ears.

Tennis, Anyone?

My son has been playing tennis for four years now and maintains an avid interest in the sport. Not so much that he spends hours watching matches on TV, but he does go to the courts as often as he can get me to take him and at odd times I’ll find him playing slow-motion “shadow tennis” working on backhand and forehand strokes or “tossing” a ball into the air to practice his serve. He’s never held much interest in baseball or football and finds basketball and soccer only partially interesting. So I spend hours at the tennis courts, watching him practice. True, I could drop him off and pick him up later (as quite a few parents do), but my wife and I feel it’s part of our responsibility as parents to be there for our kids’ sports activities.

So this year, my wife and I decided to do more than just support him in the sport and started taking cardio tennis lessons.

Yeah, I know. That’s the same reaction my mom had.

Cardio tennis is tennis supercharged. In other words, you run a bit more (in our case, run rope ladders to work on footwork, which gives you something to do while waiting in line) and you listen to Really Loud Music while you swat the ball over the net. Or try to, at least. I often strike the occasional bird innocently flying overhead. Or get really close.

After the first class back at the beginning of the summer, my son commented that it “was funny watching old people play tennis.”

I showed him proper backhand technique with racquet in hand.

He nimbly dodged out of the way and laughed his way to the car.

Since then, we’ve either gone to every cardio tennis lesson or gone to the courts in the evening just to get in an hour of tennis during the week. My daughter took lessons a couple of years ago and knows what she’s doing, so we all can participate to some extent. It’s fun exercise and it gets us outdoors (and away from the TV) for awhile.

Alas, all things come to an end and with the close of summer and school now back in session (along with half a dozen after school activities), the family outings of tennis will come less frequently. But hope remains that I’ll win the lottery and can have a tennis court squeezed into the backyard.

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Note: I was working on this last week and got sidetracked playing video games. Ah, well.

Barbarians of Lemuria Variants

The Barbarians of Lemuria system* by Simon Washbourne is easily converted to other genres. What follows are a few of the published variants.

Barbarians of Lemuria Legendary (the advanced rules) uses a Lemuria of Washbourne’s devising since he was unable to acquire the rights to Lin Carter’s version of Lemuria (used with the free version of BoL).

Barbarians of the Aftermath is a post-apocalyptic setting which provides additional Careers, rules for “build-your-own” apocalypse, vehicle rules, and so on.

Dogs of W*A*R is Washbourne’s rules for the Big Muscles, Big Guns books and movies of the 70s and 80s ala A-Team, Mack Bolan, and others.

Legends of Steel (BoL version) is another setting using these rules.

Dicey Tales (a PDF magazine) has rules for Pulp-styled settings.

Honor + Intrigue is a swashbuckling set of rules combining BoL with a bit of 7th Sea and a dash of the action breakdown of Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. This system tends to stretch the basic BoL system enough that it’s almost a different game, but I am still interested in running a campaign using it.

Barbarians of Heavy Metal is a Kickstarter using the BoL (and Barbarians of the Aftermath) rules tweaked to represent the Rocktagon: the Eight Great Schools of Rock as the characters wander the desolate wastes seeking fame and fortune. I’m interested in seeing what the author has come up with for this game.

Those are the settings I have come across. If you’ve come across others, let me know.

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*Often referred to as the BoX system.

Fast and Loose Role-play*

For the past year (or so) I’ve been on the hunt for a game system that has a minimum of rules to remember and is easily run. I’ve looked at various titles and discarded each until I came across Barbarians of Lemuria** by Simon Washbourne, author of SUPERS! and other game systems. The link provided takes you to the basic (free) game.

I’m not going to review the game system here. If you’d like to read a review (or two), you can find some here and here at RPG.net and here at Knights of the Black Banner. What I will give you is a quick overview of the system.

Barbarians of Lemuria (henceforth BoL) is designed around the mechanic of roll 2d6, add the relevant Attribute, add Combat Ability (if fighting) or Career (if not fighting), plus any other modifiers the GM calls for, and try to meet or beat a target number of 9. It doesn’t really get much more complicated than that.

Characters have Attributes of Strength, Agility, Mind, and Appeal; and Combat Abilities of Brawl, Melee, Ranged, and Defense, each having a range of -1 to 5 (or a maximum of 3 for a beginning character). Unlike practically every game system to hit the market since the mid-80s, BoL doesn’t have lists of skills that characters have to pay points into and improve. Instead, they have Careers, and a character’s Rank in a Career determines how capable he is in it, ranging from 0 for someone who either hasn’t been pursuing the Career for very long (or merely has a natural ability in it) to Rank 5, meaning he is a master and hardly ever fails “skill checks” in that Career. A few sample Careers are Barbarian, Magician, Noble, Slave, Thief, and so on.

The game also doesn’t include long equipment lists with accompanying costs. In fact, Washbourne notes in the chapter on equipment that characters can have whatever gear would be necessary for adventuring, and there are no rules for encumbrance. However, he does also add:

If you want backpacks full of . . . adventuring gear, a weapon for every occasion, three spare suits of armour and a pack animal to carry it all around on then play another game. If all you want is a breechclout and a sturdy blade, play on!

At this point I’ve only played and/or run one-shots with the system (and its variants), so I do not know how well the system would run for a long-term campaign.*** What I do know is the game plays pretty fast, and encounter building avoids most of the hassle I’ve run into with other systems.****

This is definitely a system I will spend more time playing.

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*I dropped from my weekly gaming group two months or so back. Doesn’t mean I’ve given up thinking about games—or writing about them—just playing them for the time being . . . although I did start running my kids through the Star Wars: Edge of the Empire Beginner Game, another system that I find interesting so far.

**Not to be confused with Lemurian barbarians, which I’d expect to be rather nasty tempered and not much fun to play with.

***Though I do have plans to run a Hyborian Age (Conan) campaign at some point.

****The basic rules don’t spend much time with NPCs, so the GM is forced to make things up on the fly, which really isn’t difficult with this system anyway but someone new to the whole roleplaying thing might have problems. Barbarians of Lemuria Legendary (the advanced rules, available here or here, not free) provides more assistance with “winging it.”